Festival Review 2023

This year’s festival began in unexpected Summer heat and ended in Autumn rain, but the odd weather didn’t wilt or dampen festival spirits. Our largest community of local organisers ever set up 5,282 events; ranging from big open days at sites like the BFI National Archive, and exclusive tours of hidden places such as Burnley Empire, to video shorts about the arts of the inland waterways.

Mosaic of photographs from the festival showing people dancing, looking at a dilapidated building, a vintage car, bunting on a pier, a child in a doorway.

This year's festival helped 923,000 visitors explore new places, activities and ideas. In keeping with our theme of 'Creativity Unwrapped' one visitor even wrote a poem about their experience! 

Selection of visitor quotes like: Amazing visit, amazing building and joined as members

Just some of the lovely responses from this year's festival visitors.

Led by local people

Our small central team helps an extraordinary network of local people to put on events, which make a real difference to their communities and the wider sector.

'The strength of HODs is the combination of national and local input working together.'  Local organiser

  • 2,254 local organisers + c.140 coordinators
  • 2/3 of organisers work on the festival in a volunteer capacity
  • They work with 44,200 volunteers + 6,100 staff

Mosaic of images showing bright pink banners, bunting, open signs, bags and badges in use at different events.

Some of the free promotional material we provide, helping catch visitors eyes and link us all together / © Heritage Open Days (HODs) 2023

Supporting the sector

At the start of the year we were delighted to be shortlisted for Museum + Heritage’s ‘sector support’ award. Not only is the festival itself free to visitors, all the support we provide for organisers is free of charge too, which has been particularly important with the continued cost of living crisis. A huge thanks to players of People's Postcode Lottery for making it all possible.

'The national team offer support all the year round, inspiring new ideas, putting people in touch with one another across the country and helping sort out any problems.' Local coordinator

14 people in a classroom like room, stood against the back wall decorated with writing.

HODs helps connect people - this year's New Wave cohort met up at the Foundling Museum / © HODs 2023

Capacity building

'We had access to brilliant, professionally produced resources that we couldn't otherwise have afforded.' Local organiser

  • Held 4 webinars + 5 visioning workshops to inspire and connect organisers
  • Sent out enough bunting to cover the height of 150 Blackpool Towers!
  • Supported 14 organisations through our New Wave training programme working with young adults to create new events

Group of people dancing or watching the dance in a courtyard area surrounded by old brick buildings with square paned windows.

Visitors enjoyed the music exploring the history of reggae at Wightwick Manor & Gardens / © Paul Harris HODs 2023

Engaging new audiences

‘HODs allowed me to tap into a local community we haven't worked much with in the past in a locality we are new to. So I was excited to reach new audiences.’ Local organiser

  • Nearly 2/3 of visitors who have previously attended Heritage Open Days events agreed that it has led them to visit heritage sites more often
  • 34% of visitors are from C2DE backgrounds
  • 45% of visitors said they would not have visited had there been a charge for the event but c.2/3 visitors gave a donation where the opportunity was offered and £8.9 million was contributed to local economies through secondary spend

Mosaic of images of volunteers talking to visitors at a Hindu temple.

Volunteers really make the festival. BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir had a particularly brilliant team this year / © Paul Harris HODs 2023

Making connections

We are part of the sector’s Wellbeing & Heritage Working Group (facilitated by Historic England and the Council for British Archaeology) and this year have begun to develop our understanding of the festival’s social impact further. We’ve written a paper on ‘5 Ways to Wellbeing with Heritage Open Days’ for a conference follow up and introduced more questions to our feedback surveys.

  • 91% of organisers + 55% of visitors agreed that the event was good for meeting new people
  • 88% of organisers + 74% of visitors agreed that it gave an opportunity to support the community
  • 90% of visitors learned something new about the local area
  • 82% of visitors felt increased pride in their local area

'Our family has a range of disabilities and being in inspirational and calming sites are invaluable for our good mental health. We would never have the budget to purchase tickets normally so this was very special for us.' Visitor

Festival snapshots

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Manchester: Visitors were queuing up before the doors even opened to visit this temple for the first time. One even came from New Zealand! A special team of volunteers, ranging in age from 11-70+ were ready to welcome them, creating a richly rewarding festival experience for all.

'The event provided an opportunity to engage volunteers from across the temple community who previously had not worked with visitors.'

Mosaic of images of young adults crafting at a table, holding up cardboard protest signs, looking through a pink selfie frame.

Young organisers at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens held a special Pride party exploring local heritage / © Jack Herron HODs 2023

Proggy Pride Party, Sunderland Culture, Tyne & Wear: Long time participants Sunderland Culture, took a leap with our New Wave programme this year to create a different kind of event that reached new audiences. Taking inspiration from our theme they co-created an event looking at the history of a traditional craft… and much more!

'I LOVED the event, I had a fantastic time. It was so, so nice to have a Pride event that wasn't loud concerts and drinking. I really enjoyed the different craft activities, learning about some of the local history, and getting to spend time with like-minded people. I would absolutely go back and I looked up the heritage open days website specifically to find out more information about when there will be similar events in the future.' Participant

Brightly decorated canal dipper, painted with a detailed landscape scene.

Our theme encouraged people to explore the history of creativity - such as the distinctive art of the waterways / © Heatherfield Heritage

Bonnets to Boats, Heatherfield Heritage, online: A huge number of events were inspired by this year’s theme of Creativity Unwrapped. One of our favourite takes was this series of video shorts looking at the arts of the inland waterways.

'We’ve used this as a little bit of an experiment to help us find our feet with how to present our heritage to the public and going forward we’re a lot more confident on how to do that.'

Small group of people of varying ages gathered round a small table covered with conservation equipment in the library of a historic house.

Meet the expert events are popular - this historic house highlighted their conservation work with pop up stations / © Lamport Hall & Gardens

Lamport Hall & Gardens, Northamptonshire: Inspired by our link with Icon to highlight the work of conservators this stunning historic house held its first Heritage Open Day in blazing sunshine, with over 900 visitors enjoying the opportunity to meet experts at conservation pop ups, take part in a treasure trail, play games on the lawn and more!

'Everyone seemed to want to learn more about the book repairs, stained glass making, textile conservation, leathercraft and lace making – it was lovely to witness. Younger visitors were exploring the activities on offer too which is always nice to see as they’re the next generation of heritage visitors.'

A big thank you

A huge thank you to everyone who has participated in and contributed to our wonderful festival. Whether by visiting, volunteering, or planning and promoting. Every cup of tea poured, form filled in, poster put up, or story exchanged has made a difference.  THANK YOU and see you next year!

Save the date! HODs returns: 6-15 September 2024

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